Sri Aurobindo on Dharma


Another power claims man and overtops desire

and self-interest and self-will, the power of the Dharma.

The Dharma, at once religious law of action and deepest

law of our nature, is not, as in the Western idea, a creed, cult

or ideal inspiring an ethical and social rule; it is the right law

of functioning of our life in all its parts. The tendency of man

to seek after a just and perfect law of his living finds its truth

and its justification in the Dharma. Every thing indeed has its

dharma, its law of life imposed on it by its nature; but for man

the dharma is the conscious imposition of a rule of ideal living

on all his members. Dharma is fixed in its essence, but still it

develops in our consciousness and evolves and has its stages;

there are gradations of spiritual and ethical ascension in the

search for the highest law of our nature. All men cannot follow

in all things one common and invariable rule. Life is too complex

to admit of the arbitrary ideal simplicity which the moralising

theorist loves. Natures differ; the position, the work we have to

do has its own claims and standards; the aim and bent, the call of

life, the call of the spirit within is not the same for everyone: the

degree and turn of development and the capacity, adhik¯ara, are

not equal. Man lives in society and by society, and every society

has its own general dharma, and the individual life must be fitted

into this wider law of movement. But there too the individual’s

part in society and his nature and the needs of his capacity and

A Rationalistic Critic on Indian Culture – 5 163

temperament vary and have many kinds and degrees: the social

law must make some room for this variety and would lose by

being rigidly one for all. The man of knowledge, the man of

power, the productive and acquisitive man, the priest, scholar,

poet, artist, ruler, fighter, trader, tiller of the soil, craftsman,

labourer, servant cannot usefully have the same training, cannot

be shaped in the same pattern, cannot all follow the same way

of living. All ought not to be put under the same tables of the

law; for that would be a senseless geometric rigidity that would

spoil the plastic truth of life. Each has his type of nature and

there must be a rule for the perfection of that type; each has

his own proper function and there must be a canon and ideal

for the function. There must be in all things some wise and

understanding standard of practice and idea of perfection and

living rule,—that is the one thing needful for the Dharma. A

lawless impulsion of desire and interest and propensity cannot be

allowed to lead human conduct; even in the frankest following of

desire and interest and propensity there must be a governing and

restraining and directing line, a guidance. There must be an ethic

or a science, a restraint as well as a scope arising from the truth

of the thing sought, a standard of perfection, an order. Differing

with the type of the man and the type of the function these special

dharmas would yet rise towards the greater law and truth that

contains and overtops the others and is universally effective.

This then was the Dharma, special for the special person, stage

of development, pursuit of life or individual field of action, but

universal too in the broad lines which all ought to pursue.

The universal embracing dharma in the Indian idea is a law

of ideal perfection for the developing mind and soul of man; it

compels him to grow in the power and force of certain high or

large universal qualities which in their harmony build a highest

type of manhood. In Indian thought and life this was the ideal

of the best, the law of the good or noble man, the discipline laid

down for the self-perfecting individual, ¯arya, ´srestaha, sajjana,

sadhu. This ideal was not a purely moral or ethical conception,

although that element might predominate; it was also intellectual,

religious, social, aesthetic, the flowering of the whole ideal

164 A Defence of Indian Culture

man, the perfection of the total human nature. The most varied

qualities met in the Indian conception of the best, ´srestha, the

good and nobleman, arya. In the heart benevolence, beneficence,

love, compassion, altruism, long-suffering, liberality, kindliness,

patience; in the character courage, heroism, energy, loyalty, continence,

truth, honour, justice, faith, obedience and reverence

where these were due, but power too to govern and direct, a

fine modesty and yet a strong independence and noble pride; in

the mind wisdom and intelligence and love of learning, knowledge

of all the best thought, an openness to poetry, art and

beauty, an educated capacity and skill in works; in the inner

being a strong religious sense, piety, love of God, seeking after

the Highest, the spiritual turn; in social relations and conduct

a strict observance of all the social dharmas, as father, son,

husband, brother, kinsman, friend, ruler or subject, master or

servant, priest or warrior or worker, king or sage, member of

clan or caste: this was the total ideal of the Arya, theman of high

upbringing and noble nature. The ideal is clearly portrayed in

the written records of ancient India during two millenniums and

it is the very life-breath of Hindu ethics. It was the creation of an

at once ideal and rational mind, spirit-wise and worldly-wise,

deeply religious, nobly ethical, firmly yet flexibly intellectual,

scientific and aesthetic, patient and tolerant of life’s difficulties

and human weakness, but arduous in self-discipline. This was

the mind that was at the base of the Indian civilisation and gave

its characteristic stamp to all the culture.

But even this was only the foundation and preparation for

another highest thing which by its presence exalts human life

beyond itself into something spiritual and divine. Indian culture

raised the crude animal life of desire, self-interest and satisfied

propensity beyond its first intention to a noble self-exceeding

and shapeliness by infusing into it the order and high aims of

the Dharma. But its profounder characteristic aim—and in this

it was unique—was to raise this nobler life too of the self perfecting

human being beyond its own intention to a mightiest

self-exceeding and freedom; it laboured to infuse into it the

great aim of spiritual liberation and perfection, mukti, moksa.

A Rationalistic Critic on Indian Culture – 5 165

The Law and its observance are neither the beginning nor the

end of man; there is beyond the field of the Law a larger realm

of consciousness in which, climbing, he emerges into a great

spiritual freedom. Not a noble but ever death-bound manhood

is the highest height of man’s perfection: immortality, freedom,

divinity are within his grasp. Ancient Indian culture held this

highest aim constantly before the inner eye of the soul and insistently

inspired with its prospect and light the whole conception

of existence. The entire life of the individual was ennobled by

this aim; the whole ordering of society was cast into a scale of

graduated ascension towards this supreme summit.





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